by Doug Carpenter


Dirty Laundry

We should probably get this over with. I’ve put it off til now, but some things you can only avoid for so long. I’m guessing that you’d probably rather not talk about it. I know that I certainly wouldn’t if I didn’t have to. But I had to go and start writing an “antibiography” of the Baby Boom Generation. And since one would reasonably expect that to include, for better or worse, the whole generation, I’m sort of stuck with it.

So here goes. Contrary to what you’ve read [...particularly here, said the shameless generational cheerleader...], not everything that the Baby Boomers did was good, and fine, and noble, and pure. [Feel free to stop me any time here. Like I said. Shameless.]

Unlike past installments of this on-going chronicle of the BBG’s exploits [...admittedly many of which should probably have come with a complimentary shovel...], this one will not glow with any particular amount of pride or sing of many, if any, former glories. After all, past glories, such as they were, are only glorious in contrast with the times we did ingloriously stupid things. And they were many.

Think of what follows as a logical extension of the whole “antibiography” concept. One of the fundamental irrationales of an “antibiography” is the fact that it celebrates the many proud accomplishments its author would like to have accomplished — and which they may, in fact, have tried and actually succeeded in convincing themselves and everyone else that they did accomplish — but which, alas, they did not.

If even after having read everything I’ve written to this point [...not to mention after having lived everything you’ve lived to this point...] you still find the idea of such widespread self-delusion hard to accept, I respectfully suggest that you take a good look around. Not at your own lives, of course. I’m sure that you’re perfectly rational and well-adjusted. But other people? Not so much.

Just as it was true of every generation that came before us and will be for however many fate hopefully allows to follow, Baby Boomers want to feel good about how their existence has impacted the world. And with the reality check the calendar now provides us on a daily basis, that often finds us reflecting on our “legacy,” thinking less about what lies ahead and more about what we’ll be leaving behind.

When someone encourages you to “leave your mark on the world,” chances are you picture that as being something positive. But that’s not a given, is it? While it may be true that the “clean slate” we all supposedly start with is a blank canvas upon which we’re challenged to convey to the world who and what we are, unlike the artistic purposes other such canvases are most commonly put to, the “marks” we choose to make may not be as beautiful to the eyes of all who behold them as the are to ours.

There’s a world of difference, after all, between a brushstroke of color and a bomb blast crater, even though both are capable of leaving a profound and lasting mark on both the soul and the psyche. As a generation whose passion for self-expression elevated political, social and cultural change to an artform, this seems like as good a time as any to review our “body of work” and acknowledge the legacy it’s likely leave.

At this point, I can only imagine how many of you may be shifting uncomfortably in your seats, thinking “He’s been so upbeat until now. Why does he have to drag us off on some guilt trip?” Why? Because you’re not about to go willingly. Duh.

But come on. It won’t be that bad. And you can always pin the responsibility for the really awful stuff on somebody else. It’s not like there aren’t enough of us to spread the guilt around. And considering the demographic depth of the Boomer bench, pretty thinly at that.

Sure. Nobody likes owning up to their faults. But they’re usually more than happy to point out other people’s. Generally, it’s a strategy that works pretty well, unless the person you implicate happens to have shrewdly embraced the one philosophy that makes them untouchable: Admitting a fault means not having to correct it. [And believe me. They don’t.]

But you and I aren’t like that, are we? We’re stand-up Boomers, ready to accept the judgment of history for the things our generation did that honestly were supposed to be good but somehow didn’t quite work out that way. You may take exception to some of the things being on it. But you’re Boomers. So feel free to protest. [Why should this be different from anything else we’ve dealt with over the last 60 years?]

As I warned you at the beginning, though, you shouldn’t expect any candy-coating here. If we’re going to remain true to our basic Boomer creed, we need to “tell it like it is.” So hang on to your frisbees, your baseball card collections and your transistor radios, boys and girls. Our litany of liability [...and I’m keeping it to just the top five, by the way, because I’m not sure if you could handle more...] begins with:

Divorce: What does it say about America that between 1955 and 1985 — with a sharp turn upward beginning in the mid-’70s, the national divorce rate jumped from 23% to 50%? That the nuclear families of the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s were doing fine and dandy until we came along? Not likely. Try this.

Out of respect for traditional family values and fear of the family fallout caused by the creation of yet another sad, “broken” home, a lot of couples who, frankly, weren’t really happy [...but who believed, too often incorrectly, that it didn’t show...] stayed together “for the sake of the children.” Those children — those Boomers — learned, as it is said, “what they lived.”

When our turn eventually came to create families of our own, many of us based our choice of a partner on the standard of marital compatibility and happiness we witnessed at home growing up. And when we ended up living unhappily-ever-after, we followed what the lesson from living that taught us and opted out. What led us to that place emotionally may have been forces not under our control, but how our actions affected our children was totally on us.

What might have appeared to have been bad choices based on bad decisions made by our generation may just as well have been the result of the ultimately-unfortunate choices our parents’ generation made with purely good intentions. Though the Boomers may not have directly caused the divorce explosion, we did deliver the message that fueled it. [So feel free to shoot us.]

Health and Sexuality: The list gets even darker here, since “negative impacts” in this category invariably involve pain, suffering or worse. And a lot of each of those things entered the human experience facilitated by Baby Boomers’ actions. The use of drugs for recreational “mind expansion” as well as old fashioned self-destructive escapism flourished on our watch, driven by a potent mixture of anti-establishment defiance and emotional immaturity.

Combine needle use-intensive pharmaceutical abuse with a sexual revolution that begs a whole, new, quaintly-retroactive disease-related meaning for the now-in-vogue term “sharing economy” and you have the origins of today’s fertile breeding ground in which the number things transmittable, communicable and highly-contagious grows with each passing day. As does the number of lives they ravage. Back in the day, we thought it was just harmless fun. Had we only known.

Media: Where on earth to start. Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs, both Boomers — born barely six months and 800 miles apart in 1955, fathered the computer revolution, turning the “nuclear family” into a “digital domestic unit.” In turn, it spawned a ubiquitous family of personal electronic devices and the explosive growth of 24/7 media in the form of non-stop cable news, streaming on-demand entertainment and the Facebook/Twitter/phone texting monster.

The collective contributions of the Boomers responsible for this changed our lives immeasurably in ways you either delight in or despise. Whichever of these emotions this entry is eliciting from you explains why you’re feeling either very confused by its presence on the list or deeply guilty. [Isn’t being a Boomer fun?]

Nutrition: I probably shouldn’t call it that, because this one is about fast food. You know. Burgers? French fries? Shakes? Sure. They were around before the first official “golden arches” McDonald’s opened in 1953, but they weren’t fast back then. And that changed everything.

It wasn’t just the drive-up and drive-thru convenience they offered. That wouldn’t have really mattered if there hadn’t been so much demand for what they made it so easy to get. That’s where we Boomers came in. So many — and I do mean many — hungry mouths, all clamoring for something yummy to quiet the rumbles in our tummies that only grew louder the longer the drives became to and from the expanding residential developments that were home to our exploding population numbers.

Fashion: Let’s be honest here. Some of you actually thought you looked good in tie-dye. But you’ve got to admit, it was cheesy. In fact, even the fabric a lot of it was printed on was not much more than cheesecloth. But I’m pretty sure a lot of us wore it because, after our beloved worn-to-the-point-of-barely-even-being-jeans-anymore jeans had lost their shock value, we needed something that would recapture the “What in God’s name are you wearing now?” reaction we had become so fond of hearing from our parents.

Apply the same explanation to Nehru jackets, disco platform shoes, fringed ponchos, all things psychedelic and/or polyester and any other fashion faux pas you may have considered hideous and accept our humble apology. [But if, as they invariably and so cruelly do, they bring any or all of the above styles back, don’t call us. You’re on your own.]

I realize the emotional crisis I could be triggering in my more sensitive fellow Boomers by challenging them to confront the consequences of our generation’s actions. But before you start down the Steve Urkel/“Did I do that?” path, allow me to suggest that you think of this as simply an exercise in self-awareness. Because even though our parents may have often said that “you shouldn’t air your dirty laundry in public,” we also know that confession cleanses the soul.

I certainly feel a lot cleaner. Don’t you?

© 2017 Doug Carpenter

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